M&E union to bring action under human rights legislation to stop firms using identification method on workers.

M&E union Amicus intends to mount a legal challenge to the introduction of “retina identification” security measures at the Heathrow Terminal 5 site, which it believes infringes the human rights of its members.

The equipment, now used by main contractor Laing O’Rourke, could be employed by its M&E subsidiary Crownhouse and other M&E firms at T5. It works by scanning the eyes of workers and visitors as they enter a site to ensure that they are logged into the system (see below).

Builders’ union UCATT has not complained about the devices, which Laing O’Rourke use at T5 for payroll purposes. Amicus’ legal challenge is the first sign that there may be resistance to the measures within the M&E sector at T5.

Amicus regional organiser Frank Westerman said: “We are taking legal advice on the grounds of human rights and data protection. The government plans to introduce a national ID card but this has to be ratified in parliament. Construction firms cannot be allowed to just force this on the workers.”

In a statement, BAA said Laing O’Rourke was the only company to operate this system. The statement said: “There are no other biometrics used at T5.” It referred all questions about the system and any potential plans to extend its use to Laing O’Rourke.

BAA uses swipe cards with photographs on them to ensure site security. The statement said: “With regard to any data kept, we comply fully with data protection legislation.”

Laing O’Rourke refused to comment.

Human rights lawyer Michael Smyth, a partner and head of public policy at Clifford Chance, said article eight of the European Convention on Human Rights guaranteed every citizen the right to a private life.

He said: “The union may argue that the introduction of retina scanning bears on the right to a private life. However, there are circumstances in which article eight can be trumped by other considerations.” These include national security, public safety and preventing disorder or crime.

Smyth said that the dispute was a classic instance of a clash between two competing rights. He said: “I would anticipate that the employer is saying it is a legitimate security issue. It may claim that retina scanning wasn’t technically available in the past, when the convention was written, and that it is now entitled to employ such a device.”

He added that the burden would be on the employer to show it could not make the terminal secure without the use of this technology.

Amicus is also in dispute over the treatment of two steel erectors who were sacked after an alleged safety breach on the T5 site. The union says the evidence used in the case was provided by covert cameras, which it believes is inadmissible.

BAA said in a statement: “CCTV monitoring is in operation on the site for the purpose of safety, security and the integrity of the site. Capture details may be shared with control authorities. We make this very clear to workers at their T5 induction and is also in the T5 employment policy.”

BAA said that a disciplinary inquiry was taking place.